Now that's not a proposal for US elections - it is law in the UK as an Election Court reminded us today when they declared the election of a directly elected Mayor of a London borough void. He was removed from office as if the election had never taken place and banned from standing for office or voting. The accusation was one of several investigated by the court and there are also elements of corruption and Islamist extremism which are the subject of other allegations. Also of interest to Americans will be one complaint that voters were intimidated by being told it was their religious duty to vote for a particular candidate.
In Britain the position of Mayor has traditionally been ceremonial and were ordinary members of the council, elevated for a period of (often) only a year. Some still have fancy robes and chains of office. In others there is a new position of a directly elected "executive" mayor. Elected councillors have an oversight or scrutiny function but little power of decision making. In 2010 the London borough of Tower Hamlets adopted the latter format. (I give background on the borough below the fold, this includes some information I know from working in the area up to 2001)
In 2010 the Labour Party candidate was Lutfur Rahman. He was elected but allegations of corruption and the use of dubious tactics, like signing up fake members, surrounded his nomination by Labour. These came to a head last year when the Labour Party expelled Rahman. He set up a new party "Tower Hamlets First" with a number of former Labour Party members and with the support of the Respect Party led by the former MP for part of the borough, George Galloway. A Telegraph journalist, Andrew Gilligan, who is also Cycling Commissioner for London (appointed by Boris Johnson, the Tory directly elected Mayor for the whole Greater London area) has been on Rahman's case/ Last year published a number of allegations about his conduct:
1. He won leadership of the local Labour party in 2008 with the help of Islamic Forum for Europe (IFE) which Gilligan characterizes as a radical Islamic group working to create a "sharia state" in Britain.
2. Council grants to voluntary organizations, which Rahman had sole power to grant, went to groups with IFE connections. Others were diverted from groups serving the whole community to ones only servicing Bangladeshi and Muslim clients. (Further details here)
3. Sold a valuable council property at half its assessed value to the man in charge of his campaign website.
4. Had organized false name being put on the electoral register so tiny apartments had large numbers of "voters" living there.
5. Had arranged for postal (absentee) ballot papers to be collected and completed in his favor.
6. Had intimidated other council members, members of IFA had shouted homophobic abuse at gay councillors who spoke against him.
Gilligan lists 30 allegations some of which were addressed by the Electoral Court. The Labour party removed Rahman as their candidate following and internal investigation. Last May he stood as an independent "Tower Hamlets First" candidate along with others who stood as council candidates for that party. The election was by "alternative vote". In the first round Rahman failed to get 50% so second preferences were redistributed. The result was that Rahman received 36,539 first preference votes + 856 second preference totalling 37,395. The runner-up for Labour, John Biggs received 27,643 first preference + 6500 second preference votes totalling 34,143
Disputes over elections have a long history. By 1868 Parliament decided it was inappropriate for politicians to decide on improprieties so set up a system of "Election Courts". These are little used as they require those complaining to, in effect, bring a private prosecution at their own cost. These could be refunded if they were successful but the amounts involved meant in many cases homes and livelihoods would be put at risk. The Representation of the People Act 1983 details a number of practices that are illegal during elections. Separately last year the government minister in charge of local government removed power to make grants from Rahman and appointed commissioners to run parts of the council.
Last May's election day involved elections for the European Parliament and the local council seats as well as for Mayor. All three use different voting methods! Reports from Tower Hamlets were of a chaotic election. The independent civil service workers running it had problems with Bangladeshi men attempting to accompany women into the voting booth and directing them how to vote. There were also allegations of intimidation with voters being told it was un-Islamic not to vote for Rahman. Serious allegations of racism were made against John Biggs. During investigation, it was found that a number of votes appear to have be cast by the same person (this can be done by abuse of the postal vote system which had been alleged at the 2010 election). There were also allegations of personnation, the legal term for somebody pretending to be another person in order to improperly vote as them, by Rahman's supporters.
After a long hearing, the Election Commissioner (judge) gave his verdict which you can read in full here (.pdf). He described how Rahman had "driven a coach and horses through electoral law".
The judge found that the former mayor had run a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign to portray his Labour rival in 2014, John Biggs, as a racist and also worked “hand in glove” with the head of the borough’s council of mosques to ensure that Muslims were told they had a duty vote for Mr Rahman.
A key tool in Mr Rahman’s electoral armoury was “bribery by grant”, under which he and a small number of aides took control of deciding the sums to be donated to community groups, the judge found.
The verdict includes "convictions" on several counts, two of which will be of particular interest to US readers and which I have put in bold below
Mr Mawrey also described Bangladesh-born Mr Rahman as an "evasive and discursive witness whose evidence was untruthful on occasion" and suggested he had played "race" and "religious" cards.
Mr Rahman ran a "ruthless and dishonest campaign to convince the electorate his rival John Biggs was a racist", Mr Mawrey said
The Election Commissioner upheld a number of the allegations, including:
Voting fraud: ballots were double-cast or cast from false addresses
False statements made against Mr Rahman's rival Mr Biggs
Bribery: large amounts were given to organisations who were "totally ineligible or who failed to meet the threshold for eligibility"
Treating: providing free food and drink to encourage people to vote for Mr Rahman
Spiritual influence: voters were told that it was their duty as Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman. Mr Mawrey cited a letter signed by 101 Imams in Bengali stating it was people's "religious duty" to vote.
Along with an aide, Rahman has been removed from office. He was also ordered to pay £250,000 in costs and will be barred from any public office for a period (I believe 3 years).
Now while Electoral Courts are exceptionally rare, disbarring a winner because of lies is not unique to this case. It was the whole reason a Labour MP was barred in 2010 in the first such hearing in 99 years. Strangely this also involved Islamic extremism, this time that his rival had their support.
Former immigration minister Phil Woolas tried to foment racial and religious divisions as part of a desperate attempt to change an election result, a court heard yesterday.
A specially convened election court was told that Labour MP Woolas and his campaign team set out to "galvanise the white Sun vote" against Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.
They decided to set out to "make the white folk angry" by depicting an alleged campaign by Muslims to "take Phil out" in a high-risk strategy described in their own words as "shit or bust", it was alleged.
There is a picture of one of the scare leaflets here